"this was such a dream role" Cate
"She was an extraordinary woman, so full of passion and intensity; this was such a
dream role", Blanchett enthuses. Of course it had its downsides, too: "Oh hair,
hair, hair! My career is wig after wig after wig," she once lamented, after her hair
had to be slightly shaved for some key sequences.
A year ago, the former Aussie NIDA graduate was on the cusp of stardom. These days,
Blanchett has to employ a tough Los Angeles-based personal publicist to manage the media
barrage, and was virtually unavailable at the recent Toronto Film Festival, nor did she do
much media at the Venice festival. But then she's already one of this country's most
successful actresses and critics are dazzled by her work as Elizabeth Tudor, Virgin Queen
extraordinaire, who survived all in an era of plots and counterplots.
While she was filming Elizabeth, immediately following the release of Oscar and
Lucinda, Blanchett noted that her take of this famous monarch may not necessarily appeal
to historical purists. "I must warn you, it's not going to be a conventional
historical biography. We're taking bits and pieces of her life."
"He was a tough nut to crack" Geoffrey
Rush on Walsingham
Playing the part of the devious Walsingham, is another Australian export, Geoffrey
Rush. The Oscar-winning actor, now shooting the big-budget Mystery Men in Hollywood, also
went through a stage of doing period dramas: Les Miserables, Shakespeare in Love and now
Elizabeth. "I guess it's a bit odd that I'm seen in a historical light", Rush
says. Walsingham is one of history's great historical mysteries, a kind of Elizabethan
secret agent, if you will, and Rush chews up the scenery with this role. "He was a
tough nut to crack", says Rush. "He's a mysterious figure about whom we get to
know very little, and so he was fun to play. He was also a very unpleasant chap, one who
would stop at nothing to achieve his ends." Rush had worked with Blanchett twice
before - on the stage. He is unreserved in his praise for the young actress. "She has
a highly tuned inner life that she's obviously comfortable with and is able to play
with," says Rush. The pair are hypnotic on screen.
KAPUR DOES QUEEN
It's somewhat ironic that Elizabeth stars a number of cultural outsiders in this tangled
story of power and intrigue. The film's director, Shekhar Kapur, is Indian, and is making
his English-language directing debut. When I spoke to him, Kapur was editing the film in
Melbourne, working with Australian editor Jill Bilcock. "The film is made by a bunch
of colonials, you might say," Kapur says laughingly. The director's previous film,
the cult hit, Bandit Queen, didn't seem like the kind of movie that would encourage the
British producers of Elizabeth to hire him as its director. Indeed, Kapur knew absolutely
nothing about the famed monarch before embarking on this project. "It's true, I was
completely in the dark about her, and British history, generally", explains the
quietly spoken filmmaker. "But I think that was a good thing, because it meant coming
on board with absolutely no preconceptions of the period. Therefore I could approach it
all with a modern freshness that we all believe it needed."
"did that title refer to her sexual or political
Historical purists may be alarmed at the extent to which Kapur shies away from total
historical accuracy, in depicting Elizabeth's early reign, but none of this concerned him.
"I was not interested in making a biography of her life, but to take an aspect of her
life and examine that. In so doing, I wasn't concerned too much about being very close to
history. The events are all recorded, then one interprets the events to suit that
particular aspect of that life you have taken. So in a way it's an attempt to capture the
spirit of the person, and then to portray that." For Kapur, capturing the spirit of
Elizabeth, meant examining the concept of the title 'Virgin Queen'. "That's what was
interesting to me; did that title refer to her sexual virginity or was it a sort of
political virginity? That's what ended up fascinating me."
"he is such a powerful actor" on
Kapur's take on Elizabeth is then a surprisingly modern one, dealing, in some ways,
with the world's first feminist. "For the first time in history we had a queen
reigning without a husband, and that was unheard of in such a patriarchal society."
That was also what attracted Blanchett to the role.
Blanchett was not the original choice to play Elizabeth; Nicole Kidman was all but
signed to do it when the film was green lit. But scheduling problems prevented Kidman from
doing the film, and Kapur was convinced that this other Aussie actress might be perfect.
"I'd never heard of Cate before we cast her", Kapur confesses. "But I saw
some rough footage of her in Oscar and Lucinda and was just blown away. Apart from her
breathtaking beauty, here was an actress of indomitable strength who was perfect for this
character." Coincidentally, Kapur was just as willing to cast Australian Geoffrey
Rush as Walsingham "simply because he is such a powerful actor, and turned out to be
a joy to work with."
"will become a major star through this film." Kapur
on Cate Blanchett
For Kapur, whose film has already received glowing reviews, Elizabeth "was an
important learning process, both personally and professionally. I hope audiences will see
it as a modern thriller featuring characters who happen to wear funny clothes." And
Kapur is predicting that Blanchett "will become a major star through this film."
In some ways, the actress is mirroring her character's fortunes. The Virgin Superstar?
Kapur laughs at the ironic parallels.